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Sixth- and seventh-graders at Buellton’s Jonata Middle School won awards, including a grand prize, in a campus science fair, while eighth-graders competed in a larger science competition in Ventura.

There, they won awards for first, second and third places, plus an honorable mention, and brought home thousands of dollars in rewards.

All sixth- through eighth-grade students at Jonata Middle School in Buellton compete in a science fair each year, with first- through third-place award winners and a grand prize winner chosen by independent judges, said Marie Chavis, science educator for Buellton Union School District.

Gender differences figured in three of this year’s science fair award winners.

The grand prize — including a monetary award — was won by Emma Sedehi for her research on the differences in memory between males and females.

Individual sixth-grade winners included Mariah Simpson, who captured first place for her project titled “Does Gender Affect Reaction Time?”

Charlie Hrehor was awarded second place for his project on the “5-Second Rule,” and Gabe Beleski took third place for his project examining the “Best Egg Packing Material.”

Among the seventh-graders, Ashley Holbrook was awarded first place for a project on the “Effects of Ocean Acidification on Formation of Marine Animals.”

Nicky Hanson won second place for a project on “Computers vs. Humans,” and Ashley Martin took third place for a project on “Gender and Multitasking.”

Eighth-graders take the challenge

Meanwhile, eighth-graders entered their projects into the EECCOA Challenge.

EECCOA, which stands for Energy Efficiency to Mitigate Climate Change and Ocean Acidification, is a project-based science education program of the Merito Foundation, which provides energy, climate and ocean literacy services and products to eighth- through 12th-grade teachers and their students, Chavis said.

She said the nonprofit Merito Foundation works in conjunction with NOAA, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as well as school districts and higher education institutions to bring curriculum and project-based learning to students in the areas of biology and marine science.

Jonata students participated in campus projects aimed at reducing water use, improving energy efficiency and campus recycling as well as teaching others about ocean acidification.

Out of more than 200 entries, Jonata had six teams make it to the final EECCOA competition held May 31 in Ventura and brought home more than $3,000 in prize money.

In the Ocean Acidification Outreach category, first place and $850 was awarded to Claire Helton, Sage Trobridge, Colin Cianciarulo and Christian Flores for developing pre- and post-tests along with curriculum they then taught to a group of fourth-grade students at Buellton’s Oak Valley Elementary School.

In the Energy Efficiency category, first place and $1,000 went to Charlie Hoose, Vincent Musante, Tyler Gregg, Jace Hurnblad and Nwar Samaan for their work showing the amount of energy and money Buellton Union School District could save if it switched to automatic light switches in all the classrooms, Chavis said.

In that same category, second place and $700 was presented to Jacqueline Quijas, Brianna Rodriguez, Maria Morales and Isabela Zarate for a similar project that showed the amount of energy the district could save if the girls and boys bathrooms were equipped with automatic light switches.

In the category of Waste Reduction, second place and $600 went to Paige Reitz, Paulina Sanchez, Sutton Mang, Georgia Jenson and Liliana Coker for their project that showed how biodegradable cups and a refillable water jug system could replace the plastic water bottles handed out at the three trimester Renaissance assemblies without any additional cost to the district.

Also in the Waste Reduction category, third place and $350 were earned by Maya Gonzales-Lishman, Xiomara Mejia, and Sydney Martin with their work on improving the recycling processes that currently exist in Jonata Middle School classrooms.

Finally, in the Water Conservation category, an honorable mention and tickets to Santa Cruz Island went to Giszelle Hrehor, Peyton Lishman and Riley Vannasap for their work on replacing a stretch of grass in front of the Jonata campus with drought-tolerant landscaping.

“A strong round of applause and gratitude to these students, and the rest of the eighth-grade class, who worked hard in areas of STEM and science research to apply their knowledge in helping all our efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Chavis said, adding she was honored to have been the students’ guide and mentor in the process.

This report was compiled by Mike Hodgson, news editor for the Santa Ynez Valley News. He can be reached at mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.